New North Dakota governor expects controversial pipeline to be built

man holds American flag at Dakota Access Pipeline protest

By Ernest Scheyder

(Reuters) – North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum, who took office last month in the height of tensions surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline, said he believed the line would eventually be built and asked opponents to clean their protest camp before spring floodwaters create a potential ecological disaster.

A centrist Republican with no prior political experience, Burgum was elected in a landslide on a platform of streamlining government and improving relations across the state. Burgum built a successful software business before selling it to Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> in 2001.

Burgum told Reuters that approval of the pipeline appeared to be a foregone conclusion once Donald Trump moved into the White House.

“I expect the world’s going to change dramatically on that day relative to finding resolution on this issue,” Burgum said in an interview. “I would expect that (Energy Transfer Partners <ETP.N>) will get its easement and it will go through.”

A coalition of Native American groups, environmentalists, Hollywood stars and veterans of the U.S. armed forces protested the $3.8 billion oil project at a North Dakota camp, which at one point held more than 5,000, though that number has shrunk in size during the winter.

Opponents contend construction would damage sacred lands and any leaks could pollute the water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

Last month, President Barack Obama denied a key permit needed to complete the pipeline, but Trump has said he will review that decision.

Local law enforcement have voiced concerns that any reversal by the federal government could cause the area to swell again with protesters, straining resources.

David Archambault, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, has repeatedly asked protesters to leave the area and let the pipeline fight play out in courts.

Burgum said he agrees with Archambault and asked protesters to help clean up the camp before it threatens the environment itself. More than 300 vehicles, along with dozens of temporary dwellings and other detritus, have been abandoned at the campsite, which sits in a flood plain that is likely to be overrun by spring rain and snowmelt.

State officials are concerned that floodwaters could carry that material away.

“The amount of cleanup that needs to take place is enormous,” Burgum said. “We’ve got a potential ecological disaster if this land floods and all the debris flows downstream into tribal lands.”

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder; Editing by Andrew Hay)

Storms ease California drought as reservoirs fill up

Vehicles drive on flooded freeway

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) – Several months of wet weather have dramatically eased California’s years-long drought, replenishing reservoirs and parched aquifers and forcing state water officials to switch – at least temporarily – from managing shortages to avoiding floods.

With rain continuing to fall following a deluge that brought 20 inches (50 cm) of precipitation to some areas this week, the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada mountains – crucial for storing water needed in the state’s long, hot summers – is deeper and wetter than normal. Reservoirs were well above normal levels, state and federal drought experts said on Thursday.

“This is the wet winter that makes us cautiously optimistic,” Ted Thomas, a spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources, said on Thursday. “Conditions are improving.”

California has been in the grip of drought for five years, leading farmers to fallow a half-million acres 500,000 acres (200,0000 hectares) of cropland, and forcing some residents to rely on bottled water for drinking.

But the storms that have swept through the state since early autumn have released as much as 42 percent of the state from drought conditions, the U.S. Drought Monitor report said on Thursday, down from less than 3 percent a year ago.

Just 2 percent of the state was experiencing what scientists call “exceptional” drought, the worst category, down from 40 percent two years ago, said the report by the National Drought Mitigation Center.

So much water was coursing through California’s waterways this week that the state’s climatologist, Michael Anderson,

said he was too busy trying to help with flood control operations to talk about the drought on Thursday.

Engineers opened floodgates along the Sacramento River system, drenching low-lying land and sending water coursing into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in part to protect the state capital, Sacramento, said Dave Rizzardo, an expert with the state Department of Water Resources.

A high tide from the Pacific Ocean was expected to swell the delta, which supplies water for 25 million Californians, and engineers were watching for any levee breaches that would affect delta farming and suburban communities near Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, Rizzardo said.

Thomas said, however, the state was not ready to declare the drought finished. He cautioned against putting too much faith in the Drought Monitor data, saying it relied on short-term events such as weather that did not fully reflect California’s water needs.

“It’s not over yet,” Thomas said. “We could go from wet right now to dry for the rest of the winter.”

(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Snow, rain pummel parts of California, Nevada and Oregon

clearing snow from a driveway

(Reuters) – Heavy rain and snowfall hit parts of California, Nevada and Oregon early on Wednesday, causing roads to be closed, schools to cancel classes and widespread flooding along already swollen waterways.

A National Weather Service blizzard warning remained in effect until late on Wednesday morning for ski resort towns in the greater Lake Tahoe area, including Truckee and South Lake Tahoe, California, and neighboring Nevada enclaves of Stateline and Incline Village.

Snow accumulations of 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3 meters) were forecast above elevations of 7,000 feet, with fierce wind gusts reaching 100 miles (160 km) per hour along the ridge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, the National Weather Service reported.

An avalanche warning was issued for much of the same mountain regions.

“Those venturing outdoors may become lost or disoriented so persons in the warning area are advised to stay indoors,” the weather service said.

Roadways, including Interstate 80 near the border of California and Nevada, were closed on Wednesday morning.

Schools throughout the region canceled Wednesday classes, including the Portland Public Schools district in Oregon, attended by about 50,000 students.

Several flood warnings remained in effect until Wednesday morning for lower elevations in northern and central California and in western Nevada, where creeks and rivers were expected to overrun their banks.

Several communities in the region opened evacuation centers for people who heeded warnings from officials to move to higher ground to avoid flooding.

Heavy downpours sent a wall of mud down onto a house in Fairfax, California, trapping an elderly couple and their two granddaughters, according to local media. Firefighters rescued the couple and children and no one was injured, an ABC affiliate reported.

A series of floodgates on the Sacramento River, just upstream of California’s capital, were opened for the first time in 11 years on Tuesday to divert high water around the city and into a special drainage channel, said Lauren Hersh, a spokeswoman for the state Water Resources Department.

The cascade of rain and snow marked the fourth round of extreme precipitation unleashed during the past month by a weather pattern meteorologists call an “atmospheric river” – a dense plume of moisture flowing from the tropical Pacific into California.

The storms have brought some sorely needed replenishment to many reservoirs left low by five years of drought, while restoring California’s mountain snowpack to 135 percent of its average water-content level for this time of year as of Tuesday, state water officials said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Dominic Evans)

Thai floods cause 200-kilometer traffic tailback; death toll up to 25

Bridge damaged by floods in Thailand

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Flash floods in southern Thailand washed out a bridge on the country’s main north-south highway on Tuesday, backing up traffic for 200 km (125 miles) as the death toll from days of unseasonable rain rose to 25, media reported.

More than 360,000 households, or about a million people, have been affected by the floods that have damaged homes and schools and affected rubber and palm oil production, the Department of Disaster Prevention and industry officials said.

Television pictures showed abandoned cars submerged in murky waters in Prachuap Khiri Khan province where a torrent washed out a bride on the main road linking Bangkok to the south, causing the 200 km tailback, media reported.

The railway link to the south, and Malaysia, beyond has been severed for days.

Thailand’s rainy season usually ends in late November but this year heavy rain has fallen well into what should be the dry season.

Southern Thailand is a major rubber-producing area and the wet weather has hit production. Palm oil plantations have also been flooded, industry officials and farmers’ groups said.

In Nakhon Si Thammarat, one of the worst-hit provinces, television footage showed villagers commuting by boat.

“It’s like a big pond,” said resident Pattama Narai.

Nakhon Si Thammarat has had 493 mm of rain in the past seven days, 426 mm more than the average for this time of year, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Flooding regularly occurs in the May-November rainy season.

In 2011, widespread flooding that began in the north and flowed down to Bangkok crippled industry, killed more than 900 people and slowed economic growth to just 0.1 percent that year.

(Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Juarawee Kittisilpa and Jutarat Skulpichetrat; Editing by Robert Birsel; Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Powerful storms head for U.S. West after thousands flee floods

Partially submerged building in California

(Reuters) – Powerful storms packing heavy rain and snow will lash the U.S. West on Tuesday, a day after thousands of people fled their homes to escape floods, forecasters said.

A band of heavy downpours will drench northern California and heavy snow will fall in the Sierra Nevada mountains into Wednesday, exacerbating the threat of flooding, the National Weather Service said.

The storms are part of weather system called the “Pineapple Express” that has soaked a vast area from Hawaii to the typically drought-prone states of California and Nevada.

Just north of San Francisco, the Russian River in Sonoma County flooded early on Monday, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 residents, officials said.

In Nevada, residents of about 400 homes in Reno were ordered to leave as rains swelled the Truckee River, which flows through the city, a county official said.

A woman died after she was struck by a falling tree in the San Francisco area, local officials and media reported.

Over the weekend, an ancient giant sequoia tree with a hollowed-out tunnel was toppled by floods in Calaveras Big Trees State Park just southeast of Sacramento.

California’s Napa Valley vinyards largely escaped undamaged and the rain was expected to replenish water supplies after five years of drought, said Patsy McGaughy, Napa Valley Vintners spokeswoman.

California officially remains in a state of drought as water is still scarce in the south.

But northern California’s Lake Oroville, the principal reservoir for the State Water Project, has 2.25 million acre feet of water, more than double the amount it had a year ago, Michael Anderson, state climatologist for the California Department of Water Resources, said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee)

Hundreds stranded in North Carolina floods after Hurricane Matthew

An aerial view shows flood waters after Hurricane Matthew in Lumberton, North Carolina

By Jonathan Drake

LUMBERTON, N.C. (Reuters) – Hundreds of people were rescued by boat and helicopter as floodwaters inundated North Carolina towns on Monday in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and officials warned that life-threatening flooding from swollen rivers would continue for days.

Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007, was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday.

The hurricane killed around 1,000 people in Haiti and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Monday some Haitian towns and villages had just about been “wiped off the map.”

In the United States, the number of fatalities rose to at least 23, with nearly half in North Carolina.

North Carolina’s skies were clear on Monday after the state received as much as 18 inches (39 cm) of rain from Matthew over the weekend, but raging rivers and breached levees posed major problems.

“This storm is not over in North Carolina,” Governor Pat McCrory told reporters in Fayetteville. “It’s going to be a long, tough journey.”

Eleven people have died in the state, officials said. With rivers rising, the governor said he expected deaths to increase.

The flooding prompted President Barack Obama to declare a state of emergency in North Carolina on Monday, making federal funding available to affected individuals in 10 counties hit by the storm, the White House said in a statement.

Some 2,000 residents were stuck in their homes and on rooftops in Lumberton, off the Lumber River, after the city flooded suddenly on Monday morning, McCrory said. Air and water rescues would continue throughout the day, he said.

Many of the homes and businesses in Lumberton were flooded with several feet of water on Monday afternoon and residents were seen paddling about the town in small skiffs.

Major flooding was expected this week in central and eastern towns along the Lumber, Cape Fear, Neuse and Tar rivers. The National Weather Service said the Neuse River would crest on Friday night and forecast “disastrous flooding.”

Emergency officials in North Carolina’s Lenoir County issued a mandatory evacuation order on Monday afternoon for residents and businesses along the Neuse River.

“IT BREAKS YOUR HEART”

Many coastal and inland communities remained under water from storm surge or overrun rivers and creeks.

McCrory told reporters that he had met an elderly woman at a shelter on Monday who lost everything to floods.

“She’s sitting in a school cafeteria at this point in time crying and wondering what her life is going to be all about,” he said. “It breaks your heart.”

In neighboring South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley warned that waterways were quickly reaching capacity around the state.

“What might not be flooded today could be flooded tomorrow,” Haley told a news conference.

She said there had been at least three storm-related deaths, including one in which a person in a vehicle was swept away by floodwaters.

Warnings were also issued over downed power lines. An 89-year-old man was killed in Florida on Monday after touching a downed line, officials said.

About 715,000 homes and businesses were without power on Monday night in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Virginia.

A federal judge on Monday granted a request from Florida’s Democratic Party to extend the state’s voter registration deadline by one more day, through Wednesday, because of the hurricane. Republican Governor Rick Scott had rejected demands from Democrats to extend the deadline.

A hurricane watch was issued for Bermuda, which could be threatened by another tropical system, Nicole, that is expected to reach the Atlantic island later this week, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida and Gene Cherry in Raleigh, N.C.; Writing by Timothy Mclaughlin and Laila Kearney; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Tom Brown and Paul Tait)

Thousands still in shelters after record Louisiana floods

Louisiana Floods

By Sam Karlin

BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – More than 3,000 Louisiana residents were still in emergency shelters as record flood waters receded on Monday, while government officials weighed options for temporary housing after the state’s worst disaster since Hurricane Katrina.

About 60,600 homes have been reported damaged or destroyed in flooding that swept through 20 parishes, or counties, in the southern part of the state after torrential rains earlier this month.

With swollen rivers, streams and bayous returning to normal, many people were going back to their homes and businesses, and state offices had reopened.

But the governor’s office said 3,075 residents were still living in shelters as of Monday, a day before President Barack Obama is due to tour the stricken area.

The extent of the damage prompted the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend a grace period to renew lapsed flood insurance policies for parts of Louisiana for the first time since Katrina in 2005.

“We’ve seen major destruction to communities across the state,” Roy Wright, deputy associate administrator for FEMA’s Federal Insurance and Mitigation Administration, said in a statement about the extension.

Residents have already filed more than 25,600 flood insurance claims. But only 42 percent of Louisiana homes in high-risk areas had flood insurance, while only 12.5 percent of homeowners in low and moderate-risk zones were covered, according to FEMA estimates.

The agency has also already received some 110,500 applications for individual assistance, and $74 million in individual grants has been paid out.

“When it comes to a home that is lost, FEMA money is not designed to replace insurance or make people whole again,” said FEMA spokesman Rafael Lemaitre. “It’s a life vest, not a life boat.”

So far, the number of people affected by the floods pales in comparison with the nearly 74,000 families forced out of homes after Katrina and the 11,000 displaced after Hurricane Rita, a storm that came a few weeks later in 2005.

In 2005, FEMA faced widespread criticism for what many considered a slow, inept response. But the agency appears to have benefited from experience.

“From the vantage point of a citizen, what we see is a much more coordinated state, federal and local partnership on the response,” said Adam Knapp, head of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and a former deputy director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority after Katrina.

“That is a perhaps a hard-fought, hard-won experience for us since Katrina – when we learned how important it is to be coordinated in the immediate response.”

FEMA has formed a task force to identify temporary housing options for the thousands displaced by the floods, Lemaitre said. That may include manufactured housing units that meet or exceed government certifications, he said.

FEMA paid $6.6 billion to about 1.07 million households and individuals in the Gulf states after Katrina, $5.3 billion of which went to Louisiana alone.

In response to this month’s flooding, FEMA has issued more than $15 million in advanced flood insurance payments to Louisianans who sustained damages, the agency said in a statement on Monday.

(Additional reporting and writing by Chris Prentice in New York; editing by Frank McGurty and Tom Brown)

Disaster declared for Louisiana floods that have killed five

Verot School Rd is seen covered in floodwaters in this handout picture taken by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development in Lafayette

By Byrn Stole

BATON ROUGE, La. (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration on Sunday for flood-ravaged Louisiana, where at least five people have died and emergency crews have rescued more than 7,000 people stranded by historic flooding.

Governor John Bel Edwards said residents had been pulled from swamped cars, flooded homes and threatened hospitals across the southern part of the state. The already soaked region is expected to get more rain from a storm system stretching from the Gulf Coast to the Ohio Valley.

While the brunt of the storm that brought torrential rains was moving west toward Texas, Louisiana residents should remain cautious, the governor said at a news conference.

“Even with the sunshine out today intermittently, the waters are going to continue to rise in many areas, so this is no time to let the guard down,” Edwards said, calling the flooding unprecedented.

Obama issued the disaster declaration after speaking with Edwards, the White House said in a statement.

The initial declaration makes federal aid available in the parishes of East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. Helena and Tangipahoa. Edwards said in a statement that other parishes could be added to the list.

Emergency officials still were working on strategies to rescue an undetermined number of people trapped by the waters.

“We’re very much still in the search and rescue mode,” said James Waskcom, director of the state’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

In Livingston Parish, phone service was spotty due to the high waters and most shelters were full. A Greyhound Bus traveling from Memphis, Tennessee, to Baton Rouge was diverted to a shelter because of flooded roadways.

About 5,000 people had been forced to sleep in shelters overnight around the state, said Marketa Walters, head of Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services.

Louisiana State Police Colonel Michael Edmonson said helicopters were transporting food and water to those still trapped by floods. Helicopters also were transporting some seriously ill people to areas outside the high waters.

Some 1,700 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been deployed for rescue efforts.

Even as the state grappled with high waters, the National Weather Service forecast heavy rain from the Gulf Coast as far north as the Ohio Valley through Monday, with a threat of flash flooding.

A flash flood watch was in place until Monday morning for Houston, where rains killed at least eight in late April.

At least five people had died in Louisiana from the high water. Ronda Durbin, a spokeswoman for Tangipahoa Parish, said by telephone that searchers on Sunday recovered the body of a man reported swept away on Friday.

The body of a woman also was recovered from a submerged vehicle in the parish, she said.

On Saturday, the body of a woman was recovered from the Tickfaw River, in St. Helena Parish northeast of Baton Rouge, after a car in which she was riding was swept away.

A 54-year-old man in Greensburg in the northern part of the state died when his vehicle was swept off the road, state police said.

The body of a 68-year-old man was recovered on Friday near Baker after he drowned, said William “Beau” Clark, the coroner in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Another person is also believed missing in St. Helena Parish, Edwards said.

(Additional reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington and Laila Kearney and Chris Prentice in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Richard Chang)

Tropical storm Earl moves along Mexico’s Gulf coast

Bridge collapse because of Hurricane Earl

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Tropical storm Earl moved along Mexico’s Gulf coast on Friday, dumping large amounts of rain in southern states after battering Belize, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The hurricane center, in its 7 a.m. CDT (1100 GMT) update, said Earl was about 175 miles (282 kilometers) east southeast of Veracruz, with maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (64 km per hour).

The storm will produce 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) of rain in parts of the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, Puebla, Tabasco and Veracruz, the hurricane center said. It said the rains could result in life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

Earl, which briefly reached hurricane status on Wednesday but was downgraded on Thursday, was expected to start weakening on Saturday as it moves into mainland Mexico.

Before crossing Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, Earl battered Belize earlier this week, smashing car windows and punching holes in the roofs of Belize City’s wooden houses. It also downed trees and flooded parts of the coast.

State-owned oil company Pemex said late on Thursday it was monitoring Earl but that so far it had not needed to evacuate its offshore platforms.

(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Bill Trott)

Typhoon Nida shuts Hong Kong, more than 150 flights canceled

Typhoon Nida uproots trees

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Typhoon Nida swept through Hong Kong on Tuesday, shutting down most of the financial hub and disrupting hundreds of flights with gale-force winds, while low-lying areas were put on flood alert.

Hong Kong’s first major typhoon this year brought gusts of more than 100 km per hour (62 mph) and prompted authorities to issue an amber warning, signifying heavy rain, at 5.20 a.m. Hong Kong time.

More than 150 flights were canceled, the Airport Authority said, with Cathay Pacific and Dragonair warning none of their flights would be operating until 2 p.m. at the earliest.

Thousands of passengers were stranded at the airport and about 325 flights are expected to be rescheduled.

The city’s ferry, tram and bus services gradually resumed in the afternoon after the Hong Kong Observatory lowered the tropical cyclone warning to 3 from 8, shortly after midday.

Trading in Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEx), including Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect trading, and the derivatives market, would be suspended for the rest of the day.

The Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society suspended trading on Tuesday morning.

Streets had been largely deserted and shops shuttered since Monday evening when the typhoon signal 8 was hoisted, prompting many people to leave work early.

Nida was moving inland and winds near its center had showed signs of weakening, the Hong Kong Observatory said.

Across the border, part of Guangdong province closed offices, factories and schools as the typhoon swept across the southern part of the metropolis of Guangzhou.

Airports in the southern part of the province, including Shenzhen and Zhuhai, canceled most flights while more than 35,000 people were evacuated, state media reported.

Last month, Typhoon Nepartak drove at least 420,000 people from their homes and caused more than 7.1 billion yuan ($1.1 billion) in losses in China’s Fujian province alone.

(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Yimou Lee in Hong Kong; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)